By Tanya Pietrkowski, TPStrategies LLC Photo provided by Annie Hex of her composing her poem in the lobby of a Chelsea hotel.
I call art the “last congregation,” by which I mean that it’s a space where we are allowed to spiritually feel without boundaries. I look for artists that create that space and provide emotional engagement. Annie Hex is such an artist. She has intuitively found her voice and helps others find theirs through her words.
When you first meet Annie Hex, a queer performance artist who is also known as the “Poet Witch” or nicknamed the “Mayor of Batavia,” all your senses are awakened by her big persona and colorful, loud, multifaceted art. As a poet, activist, tarot reader, improvisational spoken word artist and much more, Annie is building her career and the embracing community she dreams of.
This quote from Annie’s poem United Snakes of America published in the zine Ungrabbable summarizes her determination and faith:
"I find blessings in a world on fire. I won’t go to bed bitter. I find one good thing and I hold onto it for dear life."
Behind that welcoming persona is a person who has worked through tremendous trauma and is paving a road for herself and others to live in their own light unapologetically. While Annie is confronting the hate she sees against the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s a universal message of inclusion and understanding for everyone.
What is the point of your art?
“My art is meant to spread authentic hope, especially when you have been through trauma. I find practical inspirations in the small things that make life delicious. It’s about finding what you can control. I create spaces where I can be myself and let myself beam with joy.”
How did you come to this point with your art?
“People told me I couldn’t survive as an artist. I ended up leaving school (college) or I felt like I had graduated already. As a survivor of sexual violence, I had to move from survival mode to creating the life I actually wanted to live. ”
Against the recommendations of those closest to her, Annie supported herself solely through her poetry from ground zero. She performed at art shows, bars, or anywhere she could, conducted tarot readings, self-published her own zines and lived very close to the edge of homelessness. Annie discovered a supportive network that embraced her vision.
“I found a community that believed in my artistic vision. I worked for people that would overpay me for odd jobs like cleaning or pet sitting so that I could keep writing. I worked for queer sex workers in particular who would share so much with me- be that money, resources, their printers, food or even at points, housing. They are the reason I’m still here. We kept each other safe in our darkest times. In another instance, I was paid in food when I volunteered for a farmer’s market. These gigs and the help of everyone in my community were the reason I was able to publish my first poetry zine and get my first 30-minute set at a dive bar. I read poems from my book and I felt like Patti Smith- like a rockstar. When I was in such a scary place, others helped me see what was possible and they helped me get there.”
Shortly thereafter, Annie worked at a boys summer sports camp in the Berkshires.
“I hated the camp—all masculinity, sports and traditional values. But, on my weekends off, I got to visit New York. I fell in love with New York City. One weekend, I sat in the lobby of a Chelsea Hotel because all the coffee shops were full and I needed a place to write. I wrote on the typewriter they had in the lobby. I read one of my poems to a couple passing by for $100. They told me not to spend it on drugs. I thought that was pretty funny, but I did spend it on a nice cab ride and the best ramen. It was magical. I would later find out that the Chelsea Hotel was home to so many beat poets and famous writers throughout history. I felt like one of them from that moment on.”
With the celebration of New York boho, Annie came back to Chicagoland and has continued to spread her art.
In a world that is crazy, how do you keep your authentic positivity and how do you relate this philosophy to others?
“It means being in spaces where I can be myself and where I can let myself beam with joy, by not being small. I help people see themselves through my tarot readings. They might tell me that they hate their jobs, want to make their art, or come out to me. I listen with no judgement.
Many people are hurting because they can’t give to themselves, because they are giving to others. When people are feeling suicidal, overwhelmed and in pain, how can you soften and lower the sense of being overwhelmed?
The dysfunction and violence that people experience can seem safe to some because it’s what they know. I try to bring softness and compassion by finding joy. What if you treat yourself in a slow, intentional and non-hurting manner? It’s radical. In my tarot readings, most people will cry because you give them the space to feel without repercussions.
I took a college class in restorative justice where we visited prisoners in Statesville Correctional Center that gave me a whole different perspective. We would sit in peace circles and have conversations. The male prisoners would cry because they wanted to be seen. You could see their inner child come out. People are complex.”
The skills that Annie developed in hustling to support her art through creative crowdfunding and innovative communal organizing have served her well in reaching people who otherwise might go unseen.
“I am very intentional about where I bring my art. It’s easy to be in the city (Chicago). I felt I could make more of an impact in the (west) suburbs. I organized the Queer Prom in Batavia this past Halloween and this past summer. For several folks, it was their first introduction to drag and queer community events, whereas that experience is normal in the city.
As a witch, poetry is my spell and personal power. Casting these spells give me purpose. My words are curated to be hopeful. I created poetry vending machines (formerly bubblegum machines found in several places around Chicagoland, including DeKalb Tattoo Company and Sidecar Supperclub) to share pep talks with the world and get people receiving poetry in unexpected ways. When people read my poems, they get inspired.
I am overwhelmed by messages of people sharing my poems that inspire them to move beyond where they are. In turn, I am inspired to take more artistic risks, with more intent and focus.”
Upcoming projects include painting a tour van pink, conducting art clubs with other queer artists in communal get togethers, pop-up housecalls and tarot readings in community spaces, zine publications and hopefully a book to be published that is in the works.
The pink van will symbolize an “iconic car that ushers in love and queer celebration everywhere it goes” and provides a “beacon of hope for queer kids in the suburbs.”
Wherever you see Annie, you see shared joy, strength and artistic beauty.
Check out Annie Hex (she/her), poetry witch & apothecary owner, at the following: